With forefingers pressed against temples and heads bent low over 30 feet of computer-generated maps, Key West residents and business owners got their first-ever close-up view of the construction plan expected to confuse and confound them over the next two years, during a Tuesday night open-house presentation by state highway officials. The $41.8 million North Roosevelt Boulevard renovation will take an estimated 880 days to complete, during which long-established traffic patterns will be altered, detours imposed and patience needed more than ever.
Most who spoke about their attendance at the meeting, held at the DoubleTree Grand Hotel, said it was a positive experience, that they felt their questions were answered or that if they weren't, officials promised personal answers soon.
"It helps seeing how the traffic is going to flow," said Sid Waldman, a retired university bookstore manager, as he gazed up close to color charts showing how traffic will be diverted to Flagler Avenue for egress from the island.
Joan Baucom, who owns the McDonald's franchise on the island, was concerned about how water pipes to her home, which pass through a neighbor's property, will be affected.
She should be. Any changes to pipes, sewers or other underground issues must be done during the road construction, and cannot be attempted for five years thereafter.
She spoke one-on-one with project manager Charlie Phinizy, who tried to get direct answers to her question and then said she would get the best information from her utility company.
She had another concern -- shared by a number of the 175 people who attended the information program -- which was the planned fencing that will stretch the length of the North Roosevelt sea wall. Critics, most notably Key West Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Virginia Panico, have expressed fears that the fencing, which state officials say is needed as a safety precaution, will damage the island's aesthetics, especially for visitors.
"I am afraid it will destroy the view," said Baucom.
Phinizy said the 42-inch high fencing is essential, but pointed to an artist's rendering of how it will be built, convinced from his point of view that the effects will not be as dire as predicted.
People traveling at high speeds, he conjectured, would indeed have their view obscured.
Among those in attendance was City Manager Jim Scholl, who spoke with residents one-on-one to gauge their reactions to the project.
"I was curious about when they would start," said Navy employee Otis May, who said his questions were answered. Construction will begin in April, at a spot on South Roosevelt Boulevard near the junction with U.S. 1 north. From there the focus will shift to the plans that will affect North Roosevelt Boulevard from Jose Marti Drive to the Riviera Canal; nearly the entire northerly length of the island.
City Commissioner Mark Rossi was also there. City officials said Rossi was among the first elected officials to lobby Tallahassee years ago for a reconstruction and rejuvenation of North Roosevelt, a vital artery on the island that is fronted by supermarkets and chain stores where residents from all over the island shop. The boulevard is also the site of many hotels and resorts, which will also need to adjust to the changes during construction.
"I'm glad people are showing up to find out what's really going on," Rossi said.
(Note: First paragraph edited to correct the cost of the project)